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Published: Monday, 10/29/2001

Firm's niche is moments when callers are on hold

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

In a year, an employee could spend as many as 600 hours on hold while conducting business by phone, said Mr. Brown, president of Business Voice, Inc., a company specializing in the production, recording, and servicing of on-hold telephone messages.

''People don't realize how much time they're wasting while they're stuck on hold, glued to the phone as a captive audience,'' he said.

But with $2 million in annual sales, the folks at Business Voice not only appreciate how much time goes to waste, but they're adept at capitalizing on it. The company is one of the top five in its industry, with more than 5,000 clients, many of them large corporations like Toledo's Manor Care, Salomon Smith Barney, and Midas. It has won numerous awards.

''They are one of the bigger players,'' said Scott Stapleford, president of Neltech Labs, Inc., of Manchester, N.H. He estimates the industry has about $105 million in sales. There are hundreds of little firms doing a few thousands of dollars in sales annually, he added.

It may sound like an odd business to be in, but Mr. Brown said his on-hold messaging is just advertising.

''If you call someone five times a week for the next two years, I've got all kinds of time to get my message across to you,'' he said.

''When we talk about on-hold messaging, we're talking about a captive audience and someone who is an ideal shopper - they're already in the mood to do business."

Business Voice, which was originally called PowerHouse Productions but changed its name in 1997, began as a hobby for Mr. Brown. He had recording equipment and used his professional recording expertise to land his first client in 1987. Back then, he used tape-recording machines hooked into phone systems and had to send updated tapes as clients' needs changed.

Today the company uses electronics, computers, and remote monitoring to update clients' on-hold messages worldwide. The client's message is developed by copy|writers, recorded by professional voices, and mixed in a studio by audio experts. Some messages are updated weekly, others just once a year.

All types of businesses use the service, but the majority are in the automotive replacement market, health care, and retail industries, Mr. Brown said. Clients use the service for education, product promotion, and image enhancement.

For example, Goodies, a maker of racing car parts, uses on-hold messages full of humor to entertain customers. Car dealerships frequently use trivia-quiz messages and other forms of entertainment. Health-care firms use messages touting health care tips.

Manor Care, Inc., based in downtown Toledo, has used Business Voice for five years. ''It continues to meet our needs,'' said spokesman Rick Rumpf.

The owner of nursing homes throughout the country uses messages at most of its 500 centers. "The messages usually provide information on the services the centers offer, like Alzheimer's care or nursing care," he said.

Mr. Brown has a binder full of letters from well-known firms boasting how their sales increased after using on-hold messaging. Still, he estimates that fewer than 20 percent of firms enhance their phone systems with messages.

The reluctance is mainly because the service is difficult to promote and explain, he said. Most of his business comes through referral or word of mouth.

''I tell people that a message is better than no message,'' he said. ''One minute to a guy on hold with nothing to listen to seems like three minutes to him,'' Mr. Brown said.

Two years ago the company added a service that makes a company's Web site ''talk'' when someone accesses it.

Small Business Profile is a weekly feature on local companies. To be considered, send information about your company to Small Business Profiles, Business News, The Blade, 541 North Superior St., Toledo, Ohio 43660.



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